International, National, Expert, and Young Champions of Maternal Health Speak at the GMHC2010 Inaugural Ceremony

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By: Kate Mitchell, Maternal Health Task Force

Today (August 30, 2010) marked the first day of the Global Maternal Health Conference in Delhi. Throughout the day, the nearly 700 conference participants–made up of maternal health researchers, programmers, advocates, social entrepreneurs, policymakers, and  young professionals–shared a number of insights, lessons learned, recommendations and innovative ideas for improving the health of women around the world.

Brief insights from the Inaugural Ceremony speeches:

Ann Blanc, Director of the Maternal Health Task Force, welcomed conference participants—and set an exciting tone for the conference as a forum for sharing knowledge and building bridges with colleagues within and beyond the maternal health field. She also expressed excitement at the high level of interest in this conference—noting the interest as an indicator of momentum around Millennium Development Goal Five.

Ashok Alexander, Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Avahan India AIDS Initiative, declared that the foundation continues to make major commitments to maternal, newborn, and child health programs. He explained that maternal health projects should focus on the continuum of care, foster collaboration between related fields, fuel the development of new tools and technologies, and advocate for policies that are conducive to the scale up of these projects.

Hellen Kotlolo, Young Champion of Maternal Health, commented on the future of maternal health; calling on experienced maternal health professionals to nurture the fresh ideas and energy of young professionals. She asked maternal health experts to share their knowledge and experience with the next generation.

Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India, explained that India, a country with rapid development across many sectors, still faces many challenges in reducing maternal mortality. To bring about significant change, he said, India will need more interdisciplinary research, more efficient and equitable health systems, more political will, and communities that are more empowered.

Gita Sen, Professor of Public Policy at the India Institute of Management, described the field of maternal health as being on a roller-coaster for over 4 decades–with ups and downs in strategy, focus, and funding. She said that now is not the first time that maternal health has been in the limelight—but that we must get it right this time; we cannot afford to get it wrong this time.

Gita Sen also told conference participants about a story printed in the Hindustan Times today; a woman gave birth on the street outside of a popular shopping mall here in Delhi—and shortly later died right there on the street as crowds continued on with their days. Gita asked, “Who speaks for this woman’s rights?” (Read the story: She gave birth, died. Delhi walked by.)

Montek Singh Ahluhalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commision for India, said that the states in India with the best maternal mortality ratios are already on track to meet maternal health goals—but that the states in the north are lagging seriously behind. He said that a lot of the money that is spent on health is not buying the health outcomes it could—and expressed a need for wider access to public facilities for the poorest 60%.

Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare of India, outlined the state of maternal health in India, citing many successes and talking specifically about the Janani Suraksha Yojana program. He said that ten million pregnant women in India have now been reached by JSY—and noted that some small countries have a total population of ten million! Azad announced plans to reposition family planning programs within the context of maternal and child health and not limit the scope of services to population goals. The Health Minister also officially inaugurated the conference.

For more brief insights from our conference presenters, follow the Maternal Health Task Force and EngenderHealth on Twitter: @MHTF and @EngenderHealth. The conference hashtag is #GMHC2010.

For more posts about the Global Maternal Health Conference, click here.

For the live stream schedule, click here.

Check back soon for the archived videos of today’s presentations.